January, 2012

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#508 – Dick Bernard: Remembering Saul Alinsky

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

UPDATE see end of this post

Thanks to a column in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune I was reminded of long ago memories of Saul Alinsky.

No, I didn’t know him, but I certainly knew of him, and he had considerable influence on my early work as a teacher union organizer.

Yesterday was Saul Alinsky’s 100th birthday. I’d never really looked him up till today, and I was fascinated by what I found.

Alinsky died June 12, 1972. At the time of his death, I had been a union organizer for all of three months. In the fall of that same year I went to Washington for basic training in organizing, and without knowing he was dead, I got some excellent training in some of the Alinsky methodology.

I remember particularly the phrase, “personalize, polarize and publicize”. You couldn’t organize against a thing, so you organized against some person who was powerful, and could represent evil, and then you’d publicize the daylights out of that polarity. (If you see similar things happening today from the right wing, you’re right – they’ve been using Alinsky’s tactics for years…while they ridicule Alinsky.)

I also recall Alinsky’s success in getting some fairness for sanitation workers at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Management was not much inclined to deal with these lowly workers, so a plan was hatched: workers occupied every stool and urinal in every restroom, and quickly got everyone’s attention. There was a settlement. (Was this a real incident? Someone let me know. It is a vivid memory.)

Alinsky’s clientele had no power, as power is traditionally described in this society. So his members had to be creative, and united.

In 1972, Minnesota teachers had just achieved the right to bargain collectively, and were just beginning to see the possibility of at least a little parity in the relationship between management and labor.

The first decade was an interesting one: those holding power had no particular interest in relinquishing any of that power; those who had had little power, had to learn by trial and error how to achieve power without completely upsetting the system for which they worked.

Abundant mistakes were made on both sides in those early years, but in time a certain equilibrium was reached, and it would be my guess that most managers with any sense would see that a union can be, if not set up as the enemy, a force for stability and for good within the work place. It is, after all, not in anyone’s best interest to have a chaotic system without fairness (though I am sure there are plenty who would love to go back to their imagined perfect world where all the rights reside with management.)

In Alinsky’s world, the powerless were the priority.

In today’s world, the powerful learned from Alinsky too, and are trying to use the same methods to take complete control once again. What the powerful may have to learn the hard way is that there is a cost to their success, and the cost accrues to them in the long run.

Labor, whether organized or not, needs to look with great caution on attempts to remove rights to organize and bargain collectively and get independent redress of grievances.

Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana are experiments in destroying unions; I know that there are similar wishes among some elements in Minnesota as well, and perhaps in other states.

Happy Birthday, Saul.

And give the working people the determination and courage to assert their rights to fairness in this increasingly unbalanced economic world that is the U.S.A.

UPDATE: Comment from Bob Barkley, Ohio:
Your thoughts regarding Saul Alinsky are right on target.

I was never trained in his methods but those of us in the teacher organizing of the 1960′s and 1970′s were disciples even if we didn’t know it. I started in 1966 had often quite unconsciously followed the Alinksy model over and over.

And quite ironically, I had it applied against me when I became “management” within our union.

Needless to say, it works. And it is the centerpiece of much that is done today by the very folks who criticize it so vehemently. The GOP right wing uses Alinsky methods to criticize Saul Alinsky. How ironic.

UPDATE Feb 22, 2012:
Yesterday friends and former colleagues John Borgen, Corky Marinkovich and I met for lunch. John showed us a package of old photos from MEA staff days. Here are the photos, through the magic of scanning and facebook. I have deliberately not labeled the photographs. The photos are undated, but the photo envelope says “copyright 1981” and the demeanor of the staff indicates it was a serious meeting, probably in the summer, before a very difficult fall in Minnesota. The setting was probably a staff union meeting.

There were, at that time, perhaps 40 professional staff in MEA. Likely most were at the meeting. For all the reasons everyone who has ever tried to photograph all people at a gathering, many are missed. I have not named the 22 people who can be identified on the photos. They are listed in alphabetical order here, for those of their colleagues who may have known them.

Thanks for the memories, John!

Darrell Baty
Pinky Bennett
Dick Bernard
Bob Black
John Borgen
Ken Bresin
Carl Erickson
Audrey Erskine
Sandy Fields
Curt Forbes
Wayne Hyland
George Jungermann
Chuck Kehrberg
Ed Leipold
Corky Marinkovich
Paul Moen
Dave Moracco
Charley Shaffer
Nancy Sinks
Doug Solseth
Stephanie Wolkin
Sue Zagrabelny

UPDATE March 7, 2012
Several of us attempted to reconstruct the remaining members of the staff at that time. Subject to error, here’s what we came up with:
Roger Barrett
Ken Berg
Don Berger
Judy Berglund
Ralph Chesebrough
Cheryl Furrer
Bob Larson
Chuck Lentz
John Martin
Peter Pafiolis
Kenn Pratt
Chuck Purfeerst
Bob Reed
Al Sollom
Hank Stankiewicz
Carol Sulovski (later Berg)
Mary Rose Watson
Larry Wicks
Duane Wilson (?)

#507 – Dick Bernard: Amending the Minnesota State Constitution

Monday, January 30th, 2012

At this moment, it is uncertain how many proposed amendments to the State Constitution will be on the ballot in November.

If you have an interest in the 150 year history of these amendments, all the information can be accessed here. Click on the link to the Minnesota 2011-12 Legislative Manual (Blue Book) at the end of this page, and in the Blue Book, the information is found in Chapter 2 on pp 75-84.

Here’s a quick scan of Adoption or Rejection of amendments, by time period:

1858-1900
48 – Adopted
18 – Rejected

1898 legislature made it more difficult to pass amendments

1900-1950
26 – Adopted
56 – Rejected

1950 – present
45 – Adopted
18 – Rejected

In all, for the first 153 years of our history, here’s the cumulative totals for Amendments considered:
119 – Adopted
92 – Rejected

UPDATE February 6, 2011
Here’s another look at the issue by David Schultz at his blog.

And another from the Letter of the Day in the Minneapolis Star Tribune for February 6, 2012.

#506 – Dick Bernard: Another Circle, Broken, towards Reunion

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

This morning, in Las Vegas NV, there will be a celebration of the life of my cousin Patricia (Pat), who passed away, cancer, on January 25 at age 61. Far too young, but this is how life goes…one of the two certainties we all share: we enter, we leave….

It was not my privilege to know Pat very well. Our shared family of origin is a large and far-flung bunch and we wander into each others lives on infrequent occasions. So, the last time I saw Pat, and then only casually, was when her mother, my Aunt Mary, was celebrated on the occasion of her death in May, 2003.

Pat was part of a farm family in northeastern North Dakota, not far from Langdon – Dresden and Wales are the local names I remember. They lived not far from Canada. They went to country school, all of them, and I believe their mother was the school marm all their years in elementary school. Thence the seven siblings, all cousins of mine, went off, as most all of us do, to make their ways in the world, here and there.

Every family, every person, brings with them certain abilities and disabilities.

In Pat’s family, there was a love of music.

So, when we had our big family reunion in July, 1993, brother Carl played Grandpa Busch’s fiddle, and marvelously so.

And when they bade farewell to their Mom at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo in May, 2003, the siblings were the choir, and a marvelous one.

In 2008 this family with country roots decided to put together a CD entitled “The Brehmer Family Sings Christmas Memories”, including 17 Christmas songs. Along with the CD came a small book in which each of the seven shared some Christmas memory of their own.

Here is Pat’s page: (click to enlarge).

From the booklet, "The Brehmer Family Sings Christmas Memories" 2008

I doubt that the CD is available any more, but I’d hope that someone will post one or two of the cuts on YouTube in memory of Pat. It is a marvelous testimony to a family, together.

I can’t help but humming the 1934 classic A. P. Carter/Carter family “Can the Circle be Unbroken” as I think of the Brehmer family as it bids farewell to Patricia today.

Peace, good memories and have a good day.

(Here’s a wonderful rendition of Circle, found on YouTube.)

UPDATE: from my sister and Pat’s cousin, Florence: In 2005 their first CD “The Brehmer Family Sing Their Favorite Hymns” came out. It was inspired by singing at Aunt Mary’s funeral. The siblings shared their musical memories.

Pat’s reads:

“I’ve always loved being able to hear harmony. I remember singing in the car to and from town because the car didn’t have a radio. I also hear Dad singing, “I went to see my Darling’ at our first house.
“My daughter, Kim, loved listening to Granpa sing ‘Bill Grogan’s Goat’ about eating shirts off the line. Grandpa had all these little holes in the front of his shirt from cigarette ashes and she wanted to hear the song over and over again.

“Singing Christmas Carols in the car on the way to church on Christmas Eve has always stuck with me.

“I sing Alto in the choir at church and have always found a choir to sing in where we have lived. I find it relaxes me.”

#505 – Dick Bernard: The “State of the Union”?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

This is posted BEFORE the actual State of the Union is presented by President Obama.

This [Tuesday] afternoon I sent my own mailing list a reminder of President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address this evening. The subject line read: “What would you ask President Obama?”

A friend, who I think would answer to “Leftie”, shot back: “How do you [Obama] expect to regain all of the voters you have lost since 08, either by breaking promises (closing Guantanamo) or failing to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? (Yes, Iraq.)”

In response, I said “I’ll respond when you can give me the specifics of what Obama promised, and when. These have to be first person (his own specific quote) in context…you know what I mean.”

Volley: “No one I know saves his [Obama’s] quotes. That is a cop-out.”

Counter-volley: ” “Cop out”? You can do better than that. You’re the one who provided the allegation. Where’s the beef?”

Of course, this business of standing firmly on belief or assertion is not one-sided, not at all.

Yesterday, or was it the day before, a coffee friend related about the endless “forwards” his right-wing uncle dutifully sends him. A recent one was so obviously false that even the uncle said he’d checked Snopes, and yes, it was false. But it must have been one uncle really liked, so he sent it on anyway.

Uncle apparently liked the made up version of “truth”.

Earlier this afternoon I happened to be in my coffee shop sitting next to the editor of the local on-line Patch publication. Patch is a burgeoning national alternative media, a creation purchased by AOL in 2010 and developed by them.

About a year later, AOL and on-line publication Huffington Post merged.

The local Patch editor observed that he gets complaints (with no basis in fact) that Patch must be left-wing – that Arianna Huffington herself is setting editorial policy for the local on-line publication.

On the other ideological pole, when the Huffington-AOL merger happened, I can remember a flurry of communications from the left, complaining that Huffington had literally sold out to the right….

(NOTE: I didn’t know this history till I started to do this column.)

There is a caution in noting these alternative realities: we seem to be a nation full of manufactured realities – our own fantasies of what is ‘truth’. It makes no difference what side of ideological spectrum one occupies, or even in the middle, we seem satisfied to delude ourselves. For what I hope are obvious reasons, this delusion is very dangerous behavior.

I’ll watch SOTU with great interest tonight, and tomorrow there will be endless translations of it, according to individual points of view.

And I’m still interested in that exact quote of the President which begins this post….

Now to the State of the Union address.

#504 – Dick Bernard: Church, State, the Stadium, and We, the People

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

This morning, as usual on Sunday, I went to 9:30 Mass at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Not as usual, I entered through the door directly beneath the west bell tower. I noticed a new marble step there. That door has been blocked off by yellow police tape for a long time – most of a year – because a 300 pound piece of the 100 year old structure had fallen off the facing of the bell tower sometime during the night many months ago. It had damaged that particular step. It could have been a catastrophe had people been entering the church at the time.

Back home I read the front page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the news-making conflict between Basilica, city, state and the Minnesota Vikings over the possibility of a new stadium whose property would begin a football field length away from the north end of Basilica property. You can read all about the conflict here. The Basilica is enlisting we parishioners to come to its defense – that’s how Power works.

The story is a good old-fashioned clash of the titans. I’m very loyal to the Basilica, active but disgruntled Catholic for a number of reasons, not a sports fan, but not particularly upset about the prospect of a new stadium for the Vikings somewhere – though I don’t see it as needed, etc., and the so-called Linden Hills site makes little sense. I’ve raised my objections but I see a new stadium as inevitable.

But the elements of this particular story got me to thinking about another aspect of this kind of conflict between powers-that-be…and those with seemingly less power.

I keep thinking back to 1965, the year I arrived in the Twin Cities. It was my most difficult year, ever. My wife was dying at University Hospital and I was broke in a strange town, living briefly with her relatives in south Minneapolis, then in a rooming house not far from the University, and later working at the then-Lincoln Del in St. Louis Park to survive.

If my memory has not failed me, some time that summer I watched the demolition of houses in the path of soon to be Interstate 35-W going south from downtown Minneapolis. This was a “clear cut” project through people’s houses. This is how it happened everywhere as this system we now take for granted was being constructed in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The easiest neighborhoods to cut through were the poorer ones – no effective resistance. And the routes were constructed so as to be most convenient to those more well-off and powerful….

Later, in 1968 I believe it was, The Lowry Tunnel at Lyndale and Hennepin was constructed to facilitate traffic north on Interstate 94, literally across the street from this same Basilica of St. Mary.

The Basilica was spared, but not the neighborhood, but the incessant traffic has done its damage to the Basilica and is at least part of the cause-and-effect of that 300 pound piece of stone falling off its face….

Now its the Vikings who demand something new and extravagant, and will likely get it after the Republicans decide how to position themselves to be in opposition; then claim credit, but blame the Democrat Governor Mark Dayton for the resulting mess. It’s just how it is.

Personally, I’ve done my part as a citizen, written my letters, gone on record with the people who represent me.

If there is to be a stadium, it ought to be the Metrodome, which came in under budget and on-time when it was constructed about 1980 and is a perfectly situated place.

If, stupidly, we’re going to build a new and unneeded stadium, we ought to have the guts to pay for it through taxes, rather than more gambling, the most destructive tax of all.

But this is a fascinating look at how power works, and if those ‘power to the people’ folks are going to exercise their power, they ought to be learning some lessons from this to begin shifting attitudes.

Related, here’s a personal discussion about POWER, here (scroll down).

Some of the kinds of "power" which can be wielded by people. There are many more, at play in the stadium location conflict.

#503 – Dick Bernard: Beginning a week with MLK; Ending a week with OWS

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Thursday night I was part of a near overflow crowd as Prof. David Schultz of Hamline University spoke on the topic “Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the Twilight of American Capitalism“. Those who are old hands at the Thursday night sessions of the program of Citizens for Global Solutions could remember only one other program rivalling this one as a draw. There were about 60 persons in attendance.

The outline of the presentation is accessible here, with permission of the speaker: David Schultz occupy wall street and the twilight of american capitalism-1

I felt it was a very worthwhile evening. Here’s a photo (click to enlarge):

David Schultz (at left) and Citizens for Global Solutions President Joe Schwartzberg, January 19, 2012

Friday morning, enroute to another meeting on cold and snowy I-94 in St Paul, I noted a bunch of folks near a very simple and clear banner on a walkway over the Freeway:
Get Corporate Money
out of Politics
MovetoAmend.org

It was a clear message, no threat to traffic.
Of course this day, January 21, is the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the matter of Citizens United versus Federal Elections Commission. MovetoAmend.org has all the details….

Also during this week organizers delivered over 1,000,000 signatures on petitions to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. It was a much higher turnout than anticipated. It spoke volumes – or, shall I say, boxes – all by itself.

And Wikipedia, Google and many other websites joined an on-line demonstration to call attention to SOPA and PIPA, two pieces of legislation that would normally fly under the radar. (See my Jan. 18 blogpost on the topic here.)

This was quite a week, beginning with Fr. Greg Miller reading from Martin Luther King’s “Where do we go from here?” speech to the 10th annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August, 1967, ten months before he was assassinated. Access to the entire speech is here. It is very well worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a sample: “…[C]ommunism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social…and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism….”

Of course, MLK was often accused of being communist, but the epithet just didn’t stick, but it, and its supposed synonyms, are still trotted out as false indictments. That’s why I have the quote here.

Driving home from Prof. Schultz’s talk I kept thinking of a gift received from Twin Cities activist Lydia Howell in December, 2006. It was a used copy of Martin Luther King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait”, about the watershed civil rights year of 1963, published shortly after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

King covered the waterfront in this small book, which is still readily available (see here, and many other sources).

OWS has been immensely successful to this point, and is now in a period of reflection about next steps.

Dr. King remains with us in words, and in spirit.

In Why We Can’t Wait he speaks profoundly of “The Days to Come” in the final chapter. Here’s a teaser quote from President Kennedy to Dr. King in 1963: “Our judgment of Bull Connor should not be too harsh, he commented…. ”

You’ll have to read the book to get the context.

Please do.

My own recommendations to the OWS and similar movements:
1) OWS and others need to change the conversation about both “them”, and “us”. For instance, what do the greedy winners have to lose by winning? A great deal, actually, but you need to think about it – to turn the conventional interpretation upside down and look at the issue from the other side. And the same kind of questions can and should be raised about your own movements….
2) The movements could benefit by a deep discussion of the meaning of the word POWER. Here’s a place to start….
3) Gandhi said “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Gandhi was one of King’s heroes. Both are gone. “WE MUST…” Theirs were very big shoes, but WE MUST…. As Margaret Mead said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed that is the only thing that ever has.” I reference both of them here – two at-home examples of people who made a difference.

Lee Dechert, whose passion is the dangers posed by man-induced climate change, commented about 'occupy the earth' in the question and answer session January 19.

#502 – Dick Bernard: A 24-hour blackout of Wikipedia, SOPA, PIPA, etc.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

UPDATE 4 A.M. JANUARY 19: If you despair about individuals being unable to make a difference read today’s Just Above Sunset. All you need to do is be willing to join forces on a cause and work together. “Work together” is the key. And keep working…. Thank you.

UPDATE Jan. 18: Here is a significant website which helps clarify some of the legal tension relating to copyright.

UPDATE Jan. 20: Here’s an excellent summary video of the issues. It’s about ten minutes.

*

Original comment, posted January 18.

Go here for information about why Wikipedia is voluntarily blacking out its on-line English people’s encyclopedia today. Wikipedia joins names like Google, Mozilla (Firefox) and many others in urging action.

Read the materials provided, then act.

*

Possibly, you say to yourself, laws like these are necessary to protect “we, the people” from stolen (copyrighted) information.

While the issue is complex, and there are plenty of abuses, you are deluding yourself if you think these laws, if passed as is, won’t impact on you.

Information is power, coveted, missed if lost….

*

From 2004-2006 – two years – I tried to get accurate information from the United States Government and others about “facts” as they related to Haiti. This began innocently: I just wanted an answer to a simple question. What resulted is a short column I wrote entitled “Anatomy of an Official Lie” which is still on-line here. I did an immense amount of work on this column, and came to the conclusion that I was being lied to, sometimes intentionally and sometimes inadvertently, at all levels. I submitted it for publication and it wasn’t printed – not an unusual outcome then or now. My audience for my concern became the public-private political entities that impact on U.S. policy overseas. My letter to them is here. I did not get a single response.

There is a serious problem with access to and sharing of information, and it will not be solved by the passage of a more restrictive law in the Congress.

*

Less than a dozen hours ago I received the most recent of those ubiquitous “forwards” sent by an unwitting friend. It turned out to be false (as most such forwards also turn out to be).

The friend apologized, but then suggested that the respected on-line source I used was itself incomplete in its rationale declaring the forward to be “false”. This was the same person who had sent the information along without any fact check at all. The forward, one gathers, more agreed with his own personal bias. Facts didn’t matter as much as the accusation.

*

Another friend, a retiree who blogs, learned of a law firm that began to sue bloggers for using portions of material even with attribution – from newspapers they represented. It costs a lot of money to defend oneself even against a false claim.

The “SOPA” bill that’s before congress right now..and I write about on my blog…and have written to my Congressional people about..needs to be killed…otherwise, there will be thousands of blog-chasing lawyers out there.

Yes, I quote my friend in that last sentence, above, without attribution. It’s from a letter he wrote to me, yesterday. He takes this issue very, very seriously. He worries, with good reason.

*

It is perhaps human nature to dismiss or discount things that we don’t think affect, or possibly will affect us. So a common response to such entreaties as this is “why bother?”

Martin Niemoeller, Lutheran Minister, WWI German War hero and German dissident and German prisoner from 1937-45, often spoke of the danger of this complacent attitude. His is a memorable and timeless quotation, which appears in somewhat different but most likely accurate renditions, since he used this phrase in each speech he gave, and may have slightly varied the words from one occasion to the next.

Niemoeller: “When they came for the socialists, I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then the came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

#501 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King, “Where do we go from here?”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Sunday morning at Basilica of St. Mary, Fr. Greg Miller chose to close his homily with an extended quote from Martin Luther King’s talk to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference 16 August 1967. Entitled “Where do we go from here?”, the text of the speech is here.

It is worth the time to read in its entirety.

As always, King’s words speak powerfully for themselves. They are old news, but they are as recent as today. Change comes slowly and is never easy.

Fr. Greg, ordained in 1973, he said, traced his ‘roots’ as a Catholic Priest to mentor Priests who were activist civil and human rights leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. This is how future comes from past. Had Fr. Greg not called attention to King’s talk, I likely would never have read it.

How can each of us apply Dr. Kings words today, 45 years later? He is gone. We are his legacy, the ones who need to do the heavy lifting. Read his words and decide where you fit in.

Less than a year after his talk, April 4, 1968, before he had reached age 40, Martin Luther King was dead at the hands of an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee.

But his dream lives on through all of us.

To help catch the dream – perhaps for the first time – I highly recommend a new film, just out on DVD and on demand. The film is I AM, the Documentary. You can read about it here. We saw it last spring, and it gives hope.

#500 – Dick Bernard: Some thoughts at 500

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

I began this blog with #1 on March 25, 2009. That is slightly over 1000 days ago, which means I post on an average of every other day. But averages are deceiving. Sometimes I post daily, sometimes a week or more will go by.

I’ve been satisfied with the initial design, and with my initial descriptor of myself: “moderate, pragmatic Democrat”. That’s what I am. I had no idea what, if anything, would evolve. I just started to write. What you see is what you get.

Jody Russell of Thunder Communications got me off the ground with this blog, and I’m very indebted to her for her expertise. My platform is WordPress.

Except for an occasional problem, such as a vicious spam attack fairly early on, things have gone okay.

My topics are whatever happens to strike my fancy on any particular day. Monday’s post will be on Martin Luther King Day; The January 12 post was on the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. And on and on.

Along the way, the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet noted my work, and many of my blog posts appear there; more recently the Woodbury Patch, part of the burgeoning nationwide Patch network, has been posting me about once a week (I submit, they decide.) Last Thursday’s post on Haiti was ‘picked up’ by the Stillwater and Northfield Patch publications.

You can learn more about the Daily Planet here, and about Patch here. They are part of the burgeoning alternative media world.

The traditional print media (we’re long-time and satisfied subscribers to the Minneapolis Star Tribune) and the local Woodbury Bulletin notices these new kinds of journalism. It’s a new, still unsettled, and certainly imperfect frontier.

I’m meeting other bloggers: Larry Gauper up in Fargo does Wordchipper, and does it well; Alan Pavlik in LA is prolific with Just Above Sunset. There are others.

Most recent discovery is Shawn Otto’s important ScienceDebate.org. I met Shawn some years ago when someone introduced me to him on line, just another name. You might know of him through the film House of Sand and Fog, still available, for which he was screenwriter and co-producer.

Income stream from blogging? fohgettaboutit. Zilch. If I did this for the money, I wouldn’t…. Impact? Who knows? Probably very little, but very little is better than none.

Like anything else, you get somewhere by showing up. Many years ago, June 1972, I heard Alex Haley speak to the annual convention of the National Education Association in Atlantic City. This was the year before his blockbuster, Roots, was published.

My takeaway: he submitted stuff for publication for years, literally, before being published or paid for anything.

I have found that the very act of posting the blog, with the potential of somebody unknown actually finding and reading it, causes me to try hard to gather my thoughts in a coherent and accurate way. I try to do a bit more than just throw words at a wall.

There is a search box on the home page. Enter a word and you’ll see how many of the 500 posts at least mention a particular word: 81 posts mention Democrat; 79 mention Republican; 41 mention Iraq; 32 mention dialogue; 38 mention hell, 9 heaven (the frequency of those two surprised me!) (This post should show up in the list of posts with those words, if this works correctly.)

One of my unique words was the mention of “truncated”. That’s in September 16, 2011. To me, an important political post.

One of my personal ‘favorites’ is discussion of “more ways to communicate less” (February 8, 2011).

Every now and then somebody will comment about the blog, usually favorably, but I’m like the vast majority of the immense numbers of bloggers in this country: mostly we labor in anonymity, hoping one or two will stop by once in awhile to at least scan our thoughts, get inspired or get mad….

We are part of the web of conversation that is necessary for a functioning society.

Thanks for stopping by. If you think this is a worthwhile place, let others know about it. Hopefully I can report at post #1000 about three years from now….

UPDATE Feb. 23, 2012: I neglected to mention my thought process with name of the blog, etc.

When I retired from teacher union work (Jan. 2000) I was president of a group called the Minnesota School Public Relations Association. After an entire life in public education, I decided to observe and feel public schools from ‘outside the walls’. I called myself “Looking at Public Schools from Outside the Walls”, and in 2002 developed a website which still exists here, and includes nearly 60 ideas for visitors. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much interest in the site/activity, and it went dormant in February, 2008, but I kept it on-line.

Friends were encouraging me to do some blogging, and I finally bit in early 2009, and attached my blog to the outsidethewalls platform.

The photos on the home page are 1) from a road beside the ND farm near Berlin where my mother grew up in the early 1900s. Her brother and sister lived on the farm till recent years. The dog is their dog, “Sam”, who when I came to visit knew my routine and looked forward to the walks. He’s passed on some years now.

The other photo looks north from Hawk’s Nest in near dead-center ND, south of and between Carrington and Sykeston. The photo was taken in 2008 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation at Sykeston.

Thanks for stopping by.

#499 – Dick Bernard: Political Communication; Communication in the U.S. Political Sphere

Friday, January 13th, 2012

This mornings e-mail brought a most interesting post from Just Above Sunset (JAS), one of my favorite bloggers. Today’s post, Longing for Vigilante’s, concerns Politics and the Communications Profession. It is quite long, but worth the read, and accessible here*. I filed an off-the-cuff comment (later in this post, certainly a “rant”), and the entire conversation brought to mind a reflection on political communications in days gone by….

Some years ago I read a fascinating historical novel, Bones of Plenty by Lois Phillips Hudson.

Hudson’s novel is set in rural North Dakota in 1934, in the area of a small town west of Jamestown, and not far from where my Uncle Vince has spent his entire life. Vince was 9 years old in 1934 (he just turned 87), and in conversations he has described that year as the worst year in the Great Depression.

There is much to this novel, but what brought it to mind today was reflecting on how communications took place in 1934. There were newspapers and journals, then, many of which printed most anything submitted by readers. There was no glut of information. Some citizens had telephones; radio, while existing, was not accessible to the masses.

The main way people communicated, then, was in person, face-to-face, after church, in the saloon, at the town hall, or in assorted settings in the town and country.

These were not people who necessarily agreed with each other: some loved Roosevelt, some hated him. There were all of the things that cause relationship dilemmas in the present day. But the fact of the matter was that they were stuck with each other, and as a consequence, whether they liked it or not, they had to figure out ways to survive, together.

It occurs to me that we no longer feel that need to relate with others, politically, and we are hurting ourselves immensely, as a country. We isolate ourselves in “pods” of particular interests/biases.

This is unhealthy to the future of our society.

*

After I read Just Above Sunset, I dashed off the following, which I have chosen to not edit in any way. Best to catch the emotions of the moment. It is my rough draft, as it were.

The photos at the end of this post are of elders and a student in conversation two days ago in Minneapolis. It was a privilege to witness their chats.

Here’s to real, genuine, communication as it used to be!

*

(Posted to Just Above Sunset [Jan. 13 2012]) “[I begin with] my last sentence, apologizing for the length of the following rant. Sorry. I hope at least one person reads this!

There is certainly research around on this most important topic, but nobody will read it.

My guess: most Americans don’t even read headlines, much less content, and in these days can’t be bothered with discerning fact, so they depend on their outlet of choice: Fox, Daily Kos…endless similar sources right and left.

I’m just a common dog in all of this. I’ve noted that the first paragraph and the last are important. the headline may or may not be unbiased. Pundits often stick in the middle of their column, somewhere, a CYA paragraph, in case somebody calls them out for their bias. They can then say, truthfully, what is really false: “see, it was right there, and you just didn’t read it.” The lead story on TV is always sensational, and there is no “depth of coverage” worth those words outside of, perhaps, 60 Minutes. And on an on and on.

There is a lot of money to be made by the media in political advertising, and we schmucks will pay the bill through campaign contributions to our favorite candidates.

Years ago I coined a phrase, [essentially] “we have too many news people, and too little news” [actually, “more ways to communicate less“]. Of course, as I say, I’m just a common dog and have no way of proving that, and the words are too common to do a productive internet search of that and prove my case. But “my” phrase has been out there for years.

We have become a nation of idiots.

‘Opinions’ have replaced any semblance of ‘facts’ or ‘truth’.

Or maybe we haven’t lost it all just yet.

Just a couple of days ago an elderly friend of mine (actually, he and I are the same age, but what the hey?) was talking with a young woman, who’s working on her senior thesis at her university in Philly area. [first photo, below. click to enlarge] I had taken her over to see him. She happened across me last summer, and I think she’s glad she did. He observed to her, and I agree with him, that the vast majority – the silent middle in this country – is up to something. But it’s quiet and uninteresting and too hard to ferret out, so it won’t make the news. If he’s right, and I think he is, we’re at a time of a profound shift in attitude, but it’s far too boring to cover: like watching paint dry. News is entertainment today.

My college friend is the future we’re, pardon my French, ‘shitting’ on as we play our games. They will remember. We lived in the golden age of “America”, and we lost perspective. Who doesn’t know someone who’ll freely admit “I’m spending my kids inheritance.” It’s more than our kids money we’re spending. We’re spending their future, too.

So the commercial media (which unfortunately includes almost all media now – even lonely bloggers need to pay for their computer) will continue to “ambulance chase”, and in one way or another adopts the famous mantra: “we report, you decide”. And the politicians and their image makers will lie through their teeth, knowing it doesn’t make any difference at all: today’s quote is all that matters, and that people will forget by election day.

As a disinterested relative of mine is fond to say, “they all lie”, which gives her permission to ignore any responsibility for her own choices.

One parting shot: last spring we saw a movie that came and went quickly, but is back in DVD and on demand as of Jan 3, 2012. It is called I Am, The Documentary. I wish everybody in the world could see it, and then talk about it. Check it out on the internet. As the subtitle says: “The shift is happening”.

I hope.”

Sign me: someone who cares.

Bob Milner and Allison Stuewe, Minneapolis MN, January 12, 2012

Interviewing Lynn Elling, Minneapolis MN, January 11, 2012

UPDATE January 14, 2012
* – Comment intended for “Rick the news guy” referred to in Just Above Sunset. Rick was apparently on the “ground floor” at the founding of CNN. I don’t know if this comment will reach Rick. I rarely watch CNN now, but what I see suggests that it at least is attempting to act as a legitimate news source, compared with someone like Fox News (to me, “faux news”).

I thought you might be interested in the following:

I spent considerable viewer time with CNN in the early years of the station. My first vivid memory was Wolf Blitzer reporting from wherever he was during Desert Storm in 1991. He did a great job, as I recall.

In October, 1996, I was watching CNN when I finally had enough and turned off the television, permanently. It was in the heat of the political season and one Newt Gingrich looked me straight in the eye through a CNN camera and told a bald-faced lie, with great sincerity. It was my last straw. I don’t remember what the lie was, but I know it was Newt. I wrote a column about it which was published in my college town paper in December of that year. The column is [Politics 1960 vs 1996001].

I am no longer a TV fan, though I watch it for brief times, including evening news. I pretty rarely watch CNN these days.

The most recent experience with CNN was another unfortunate one: I went to Haiti in December, 2003, and spent a week there learning about Haiti from people who were favorable to President Aristide, including his foreign press liaison. This was a time of tension before the coup, and, in fact, we were in the press liaisons home when she got the phone call about the big demonstrations forming near the capitol.

I really knew nothing about Haiti before that trip, and I was astonished at the diametrically opposed ‘spin’ from the American government and press, and people who liked and respected Aristide, particularly when it became clear that he was to be deposed largely through U.S. efforts [personal opinion here].

One of the worst events for me was one evening when I learned that CNN would be interviewing President Aristide in Port-au-Prince. I think the guy doing the interview was Anderson Cooper, though I could be wrong on that. It’s not terribly relevant. What turned me off was how condescending and dismissive the CNN interviewer was to Aristide. He was treated like he was some small town mayor, rather than as President of a country. I’ve never forgotten that.

The news business is difficult, no doubt. I do know a bit about how it works, and I don’t think it is working at all well today.

Thanks for listening.